Tony Arnell. Image: St Patrick's College

In 2004, I introduced the first residential minimum energy standards into the Victorian Building Regulations. The stringency level was a very modest four stars based on the emerging NATHERS methodology but was controversial at the time.

As expected, the peak bodies representing builders claimed it would add significant cost to new housing with little benefit and Victoria was criticised for “going it alone” outside of the Building Code of Australia (now the NCC).

In 2006, the ABCB followed Victoria’s lead and adopted minimum standards into the National Code much to the chagrin of many including the Australian Government of the day. Amongst plenty of scaremongering, the death of “the Queenslander” housing style was foreshadowed by one senior Minister.

Of course, history tells us the story that none of the hysteria around the introduction of the standards ever eventuated and that the consumer has benefited massively through energy savings and increased comfort as evidenced by countless studies.

The latter part of the 2000’s was a positive period for the standards as the Code increased to five stars and then six stars in 2010, a pleasing result although still modest by international comparisons.

That was the last time residential standards were altered. If there are changes to the NCC next year as foreshadowed it will have been twelve years since any improvement and already some states have flagged a twelve month transitioning arrangement….so make that thirteen years.

I have been advising for some time that next years proposed changes are by no means certain given the intense politicking occurring behind the scenes.

The release of the so called consultation Regulatory Impact Statement by the ABCB on Monday night would be music to the ears of the forces who would choose to regard minimum standards for residential energy efficiency in the same way they were criticised 17 years ago.

It is hard to fathom that the cost benefit of the proposed seven star standard is estimated to be negative when all previous RIS’s for residential energy efficiency have been positive. Typically, the Office of Best Practice Regulation would only support new standards proceeding if the cost benefit was in the required positive range.

In my mind, the costs are overstated and the benefits significantly understated. There will be plenty of detailed commentary in coming days and weeks.

In the United Nations at the moment we have many world leaders discussing global issues such as the pandemic….and of course climate change.

The built environment has always been a massive part of the solution and in particular how we achieve net zero. Minimum building standards are a part of this response but we must keep this in perspective. This is not the leadership end of the market and, of course, minimum standards are mainly about eliminating “worst practice”. The point is that it’s not a huge stretch to go for six to seven stars.

So if we fail to adopt the proposed seven star standards for housing next year another nail will be driven into the coffin of failing to recognise the benefits of increased stringency in this time of climate emergency.

Tony Arnell has served on the ABCB Board for eleven years and has chaired the World Green Building Council, Green Building Council of Australia and the Energy Efficiency Council.

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  1. Does it seem strange to anyone else that all the costs in this report have the full retail energy prices bundled in them, but all the savings in this report are only judged using the much lower wholesale cost? I’m no economist, but shouldn’t the ledger have the same assumptions on both sides for a fair comparison?
    Jeremy Spencer says:
    26 September 2021 at 9:10 pm

    I have been building low carbon/zero carbon homes at Positive Footprints for the best part of 2 decades. These days with LEDs, efficient heat pumps, thermal analysis tools and cost effective PV, there is no reason all new homes shouldn’t be carbon zero, or close to. We do it as a matter of course down here in cold(ish) Melbourne, and our clients normally pocket around $2000 every year in energy savings. Go tell them this doesn’t make financial sense!

  2. Perspective?

    Going from 6 to 7 stars in NSW will reduce consumption by around 300kW to 900kW PA (depends on the house you live in).

    Avoid approximately 300 to 900 kg of greenhouse gas emissions.

    However cost 2-12% depending on type of house, say $16k to $87k.

    Result it a bit of paper that say 7 stars but no real test or inspection.

    1 additional kW pf PV would cost $300-$500 and reduce consumption by 1,400 kW per year in NSW, reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

    Blower doors test approx. $500 would improve the existing requirements as they would actually be tested, not just a bit of paper.

    The cost of 7 stars will take longer to recoup (100-300 years) than the building will last (50-100 years).

    And which option are you pushing for?

  3. Good points Tony, but 7* is still not good enough. The average home with 6* mandated emits 7tonnes of CO2-e/year. If the height of our ambition is 7* whoopee, emissions will drop to 5 tonnes of CO2-e/yr. That means my kids and grandkids might live, what, another 10 years.
    In 2021 with the ink still wet on the IPCC AR6 report saying we must radically decarbonise in 8 years and many expert commentators (including a renegade group of IPCC scientists) say its far less – some (Prof Sir David King – former UK Chief Scientist) says the carbon budget is already used up this is just unacceptable. The ONLY valid mandate from now on is Net Zero. Energy savings from such buildings will more than offset increased mortgage repayments – There are no more legitimate excuses for procrastination.

  4. Tony – thanks for shining a light on this. The same thing happened with the Accessible Housing RIS. The consultants left out the qualitative and social benefits in their calculations. The whole thing was skewed towards industry information (opinion, not evidence) that it would “cost too much”. Actual evidence to fill in the gaps in their research was dismissed as opinion. The other article in this edition featuring the “say it like it is” Peter Phibbs refers.